I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"A Vast Improvement"

And so falls the New York Times:
Tennessee has a long way to go in improving its schools, but it has made significant headway in turning itself into a laboratory for education reform. It was one of the first states to test a rigorous teacher evaluation system, which was put in place this school year. Yet even before the results are in, political forces are now talking about delaying the use of these evaluations. State lawmakers and education officials must resist any backsliding. 
Tennessee’s need to do better was underscored when the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card, ranked the state near the bottom in fourth-grade math performance, just ahead of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. These dismal results — slightly worse than those reported in 2009 — were made public earlier this month during legislative hearings on the evaluation system.
Here's an exercise in logic: did any of the states that far outpaced Tennessee and are at the top of the nation - say, for example, New Jersey - use a poorly conceived teacher evaluation system that is opposed by actual educators but pushed by corporate interests?

No. So maybe we want to look somewhere else for solutions, ya think?

The Times continues:
Teacher evaluations now have three components: 50 percent from classroom observation data, 35 percent from student growth on test scores and 15 percent from student achievement measures that are locally selected. The teachers are rated on a five-point scale, from “significantly below expectations” to “significantly above expectations.” School districts are not required to fire anyone based on the ratings, but the state now requires teachers to work for five years, instead of three, before they are eligible for tenure. Those who want tenure have to earn high ratings for two years.
Honestly, how many times do we have to go over this before the ill-informed commentariat gets it? It may be 35% of the evaluation, but it becomes 100% of the decision. And we know the volatility across years in value-added models is far to great to make high-takes decisions.

It's depressing that the Times - considered to be the gold-standard of journalism - clearly offers this opinion without having educated itself. It's especially depressing because their own Michael Winerip has reported so well on this very topic:
For 15 percent of their testing evaluation, teachers without scores are permitted to choose which subject test they want to be judged on. Few pick something related to their expertise; instead, they try to anticipate the subject that their school is likely to score well on in the state exams next spring.
Several teachers without scores at Oakland Middle School conferred. “The P. E. teacher got information that the writing score was the best to pick,” said Jeff Jennings, the art teacher. “He informed the home ec teacher, who passed it on to me, and I told the career development teacher.”
It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher’s ability to play the odds. There’s also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn’t teach a classroom subject.
Is there a person on this planet who thinks this is a good idea? Do the failed members of the Tennessee business community - Tennessee's unemployment rate is higher than the national average, close to 10% - believe that stupidity like this will cover up their failures to produce a strong economy?

Once again, we teachers are left to contend with poorly designed systems cheered on by politicos who are clueless, business leaders who should spend their time fixing their own massive failures, and journalists who either can't or won't understand what they are writing about.

All of you need to step back and let us do our jobs. You are killing this profession and you need to put your egos and your self-interest in check and let us be the professionals we are. You will find you then have the time to fix your own political, economic, and media systems, with are in far worse shape than American education ever was.


Anonymous said...

I guess this is how the witchhunts of history work: if you deny there is a problem, you are the problem. Doesn't help that we have daily reports of bad teachers, coaches, etc.--evil people some of them, but not the norm--appearing in all media.

Did you see the one last week about the disabled Paterson teacher accused of forcing kids to empty his pee jar? The Record set that one up as a tenure story. Don't have the link handy, but the jump headline read "Tenure" (instead of "P-ed Off?").

Anonymous said...

>>"....the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card, ranked the state near the bottom in fourth-grade math performance, just ahead of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi."<< Louisiana?!? Louisiana?!? After the natural disaster of Katrina, New Orleans fired all of their public school teachers and set up charter schools all over the map. Isn't NO about 60% charter schools and NO's NAEP scores are near the bottom while NJ's NAEP scores are at the top of the rankings, as per usual. The NO educational system has been almost totally de-unionzed and yet they are at the bottom of the educational rankings? Hmm.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, New Orleans is not all of Louisiana, I guess I should have made that distinction. I don't know the NAEP scores for NO, but LA is certainly a state that has embraced charter schools and school vouchers. So my previous comment is not totally irrelevant.